#sfwapro

Oh! What a Tangled Web (Part 3)

The third Skink and Percher story is out now at Clarkesworld #163. Just to recap, all three stories are listed below, although each story can be enjoyed in isolation. (And — unless your job or circumstances absolutely require otherwise — you are in isolation at the moment, aren’t you?)

  1. Climbing the MothermanDreamForge, March 2020.
  2. Witch of the WeaveClarkesworld, December 2019 (also available as a podcast).
  3. Angel PatternClarkesworld, April 2020.

This marks my 3rd sale to Clarkesworld and my 30th story sale overall… a situation that never ceases to amaze me, considering I still think I’m only just starting to get to grips with the craft of writing.

I hope you enjoy “Angel Pattern”, and the overall arc of the stories with these characters. I’m currently considering what other perilous situations I can put them into…

“Home Planet” by Beeple (aka Mike Winkelmann)

Oh! What a Tangled Web (Part 1)

Now that their Kickstarter has funded, time to officially announce my story “Climbing the Motherman” will be published in DreamForge magazine Issue #5, around the middle of this month, available in both print and via the DreamForge web portal.

As mentioned previously, this is the prequel to my story “Witch of the Weave” that appeared in Clarkesworld #159 in December last year. In actual fact, they were written sequentially, with quite some gap between. Once I’d finished “Motherman“, though, I knew I needed to write a sequel involving the characters Percher and Skink. I find those are the best stories, don’t you? Where you wonder what happens next?

If you enjoy “Climbing the Motherman“, you can find out what happens next in “Witch of the Weave“. And if, instead, you’ve read “Witch” first, soon you’ll be able to find out how Skink and Percher first met in “Motherman“.

(A third Skink and Percher story, “Angel Pattern”, a novelette, is due to appear in a future edition of Clarkesworld.)

The original inspiration for “Motherman” is the Willow Man sculpture by Serena de la Hey that stands beside the northbound M5 near Bridgwater in Somerset. We often pass it when travelling to or returning from family holidays in the West Country. One night I dreamt that, rather than birds, humans nested within the sculpture… and the rest, as they say, is history…

Below is a photo taken by yours truly as we passed by, inexpertly processed to remove the huge Morrisson’s supermarket depot and housing estate now built around the original sculpture.

“The Motherman”, photo by Henry Szabranski

The opening paragraph of “Motherman” starts with one of the longest sentences I’ve ever had published, and many thanks to Scot Noel at DreamForge for allowing it to remain intact. It’s unusual for editors (and perhaps readers, too) to tolerate an opening scene that’s not immediately “in media res”, but I hope the relatively languid start here enables the story to breathe and develop resonance later. If there are any more Skink and Percher stories in the future, they’ll all be based upon fulfilling the promise made to the reader in that first sentence.

As a young climbling, I would sit on the edge of wind-torn openings in the Motherman’s chest and stare out at the other giants who stood motionless upon the horizon: the Hunter, huge net flung from outstretched hands, forever seeking his mysterious and elusive prey; the Maiden, slender arms held aloft as if to beseech the callous gods, withy tresses trailing like a stubborn nimbus; and the Hunchback, also known as the Beast, more distant but larger than the rest, leaning forward so that it crouched upon its knuckles and its ridged spine notched the sky. All of them, and others, an entire earthly zodiac, frozen in a landscape blanketed by the ever-swirling mist.

“Climbing the Motherman”

2019 Wrap Up

Not the greatest of years in terms of new stories published, with only two out:

Still, I’m happy with both, and there were also a couple of reprints last year, including my first ever appearance in a “Best Of” anything with 2018’s “The Veilonaut’s Dream”, and also my first ever Chinese translation with the same story. So no complaints really, even though most of the year was spent writing a 15K novelette I poured a lot into, but at that length it’s really very difficult to find a market.

So what will 2020 bring? At least one more new story, the prequel to “Witch of the Weave”, “Climbing the Motherman”, should be out early 2020 in issue #5 of DreamForge Magazine, and I’m close to completing the sequel too, although of course there is no guarantee it will ever get accepted anywhere. Also this year, my story “Against the Venom Tide” should be reprinted in the Rosarium Press “Trouble the Waters” anthology (touch wood).

Any other stories coming out this year? As always: who knows? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

On The Origin of Giants

My story “On Ohab’s Land” is out in the Spring 2019 edition of Kaleidotrope. No it’s nothing to do with whales. Here’s a taster:

Grass stubble crunches beneath Ohab’s feet as he approaches the giant. The long, dry summer has baked the hayfield a deep golden brown, and late-blooming poppies sprout from between the ridges of cracked mud, nodding like amiable premonitions of blood as Ohab passes by. The last wisps of early morning mist have burned away, and crows, unfazed by the giant’s presence, flap lazily between the barrel-trunked oaks that dot the field’s perimeter.

Don’t ask me how many attempts it took to get that first paragraph just so. Many. Many attempts. No really. If you have a figure in mind for the number of revisions then I’m pretty sure it’s too low. Yes. Even that figure. Waaaaaay too low. And I’m still not sure about the extra comma or the two instances of “Ohab”. Yes, these are things that give me sleepless nights.

The story’s first-pass name was “The Origin of Giants”, a rather grandiose title from under which it could never really escape. Although “Land” deals more or less with the physical origin of giants (in this story world), it nowhere near adequately approaches the origin of true giants, those not of merely physical stature… for that you’d be better off reading something like Jose Pablo Iriarte’s The Curse of Giants. So the title had to change, and the story had to find a new heart… which I think it does, at the end. Probably it’s too optimistic of me to consider Ohab a suitable case for redemption, but in order to be a writer you really do have to put aside the pessimism now and again. Do I believe that change for the better — for people and the world — is possible? Sometimes. Yes, I really do.

“Giant” by Saryth Chareonpanichkul

The Good of Fantasy for Good

The folks at Nightscape Press and anthology co-editor Richard Salter recently shared the news that Fantasy for Good has so far raised at least $10,000 for the Colorectal Cancer Alliance. Which is absolutely fantastic — but you know what? It doesn’t need to stop there. The anthology is still for sale and it’s full of timeless tales by some of the biggest names in fantasy literature, so if you haven’t got a copy yet (or two, or more) it’s not too late to help this great book raise even more funds for a really worthwhile cause.

Also. Look at that cover. It’s worth the price alone.

The Velna Valsis

My story “The Velna Valsis” is now up at issue #11 of Fantasy Scroll Magazine.

Herr Doktor Ostermann drops the needle. A scratchy hiss fills the decayed splendor of Charlotte’s Viennese apartment. Outside, night is falling and a crowd gathers in the plaza. There are angry shouts — “Murderers! Juden!” — the sound of dogs barking. Charlotte does not know the reason for the commotion, nor does she care; her world has shrunk to the parlor, to Ostermann’s blood-smeared smile as he turns from the gramophone and says, “Shall we dance, meine Liebe?”

“The Velna Valsis” is a dark story. Possibly the darkest I’ve written. All the more dark since it’s obvious the Velna Valsis is still being played and eagerly listened to across the world right now. Its victims and players vary and swap sides, fluid like flame, but the damage left in its wake is unmistakeable.

Someone should really lift the needle.

Inspiration came from a writing prompt featuring a photograph by the talented Robin Cristofari, together with a piece of music by Carlos D’Alessio, his Valse De L’Eden. I paired them up, put D’Alessio’s piano waltz on loop, and a little while later “The Velna Valsis” popped out. The photo is obviously not of late 1930s Vienna, and the music didn’t urge me to indulge in wanton violence, so I’m not quite sure from which strange corner of my mind this story emerged, but that’s often just how it works. At least a couple of readers have mentioned Mikhail Bulgakov. I think one said they were reminded of The Master and Margarita. I’ve not read any Bulgakov so I can’t say whether I agree, but I’ll gladly take it as a compliment.

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PS. In case you’re wondering, “Velna Valsis” is Latvian for “Devil’s Waltz”. Why Latvian? No reason other than I liked the sound of it.

Bone Flowers

Aaaaand… a Happy New Year to you! I hope it’s a good one.

My story “The Osteomancer’s Husband” is now up at Diabolical Plots as the January 2016 story.

He warned his wife the villagers would come. With their pitchforks, their fire. Their hateful ignorance.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “We have to leave. They saw beneath my mask.”

The inspiration for this story were a couple of photographs used for a writing group prompt challenge. One image was of flowing water (“…the burbling mountain stream…”), the second was of a hand tossing what looked like tiny bones to the wind (“Like…tiny snowflake vertebrae…”), both by the talented Robin Cristofari. To me the bones looked like seedlings, so I immediately began to wonder what their origin might be.

If you like the story (or even if you don’t), please feel free to comment here or on the Diabolical Plots site. Any feedback is always welcome.

"Les Feuilles mortes 3" by Robin Cristofari

“Les Feuilles mortes 3” by Robin Cristofari.